A 166-year-old piece of history sought after by activists will finally be preserved as a place to teach the community about an overlooked and bloody massacre in nearby Levy County.
On July 14, the Real Rosewood Foundation announced it will soon own the John Wright House, the only building to withstand an angry Ku Klux Klan mob that set fire to the mostly Black town of Rosewood almost 100 years ago.
The foundation works to locate Rosewood survivors and descendants while preserving the history of the massacre.
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Lizzie Jenkins, the group’s CEO, said it was her enthusiasm for the Wright House’s history that secured the donation.
Last year, Jenkins introduced herself to Ian Stone, who bought the Wright House in April 2020, while leading a tour group at a nearby Rosewood memorial site.
“I think he picked up the passion in my heart,” she said.
During another visit to the house in February, Stone told Jenkins he and his wife were selling the house. Stone initially offered the building to Jenkins for $100,000, provided the group could move the house off of the property.
In July, Jenkins, members of the foundation and the Stone family met to discuss details of the sale over lemonade and cookies on the porch of the Wright House.
But Stone revealed he planned to donate the building to the Real Rosewood Foundation.
“All of us almost fell over out of our chairs,” Jenkins said. “I was just absolutely taken aback.”
Foundation hopes to build small replica of Rosewood in Archer
The Real Rosewood Foundation has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Stones and expects to receive a deed for the building soon. In the meantime, the foundation is working on a way to move the house off of the Stones’ property and onto its own about 35 miles away.
The Real Rosewood Foundation owns 29 acres in Archer, where Jenkins plans to relocate the Wright House. She also hopes to build a small replica of Rosewood around the building, complete with a museum and baseball diamond, an homage to the old town’s baseball team. The museum will both show and tell the story of the massacre.
In January 1923, Fannie Coleman Taylor, a married white woman, claimed a Black man sexually assaulted her. A white mob, including Ku Klux Klan members in Gainesville for a New Year’s Eve parade, travelled to Rosewood, killed Black residents and burned the town for three days.
As the mob grew to 200 or 300 people, John and Mary Wright sheltered survivors in their home.
At least six Black people and two white people died, though some estimates put the number far higher. Those who escaped and survived by hiding in nearby swamps never returned and the town was abandoned.
John Wright House the only standing reminder of Rosewood
The John Wright House is the only standing landmark of Rosewood. It has changed hands many times over the years, but efforts to buy and preserve it cropped up in 2018, when the property went on the market.
Sherry Dupree, a member of the Rosewood Heritage Foundation, said her organization tried to buy the house three years ago, but the price tag of more than $300,000 was too much for the foundation to raise in too little time.
“We couldn’t come up with the money at that time,” Dupree said. “We had some activities, but we didn’t come near the amount of money that was needed for that home.”
Dupree said it doesn’t matter to her which organization acquires the Wright House as long as someone is able to preserve the building.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful,” she said. “We’ll support (Jenkins) however she asks us to support her — we’ll be right there to help out.”
And Jenkins said the foundation’s big plans will require a lot of help.
“People are coming out of the woodwork,” she said. “They want to help. They want to be a part of this history.”
With the help of Kalai Mathee, a professor at Florida International University in Miami, 40 FIU architecture students designed renderings of the Rosewood replica.
Jenkins says the foundation has narrowed the entries down to six models and will pick a finalist soon.
The foundation was told by movers that the house may be too large and too old to transport to its new home. If this proves to be the case, Jenkins said the foundation will build a replica house on the new site with scraps of the original building.
“We will bring what we can — the stairs, windows, doors, paneling, wood,” she said. “Whatever we can move.”
The Real Rosewood Foundation doesn’t have a timeline for the project, but Jenkins plans to keep working with the help of volunteers.
“Even if the place is not complete, we’re still going to celebrate,” Jenkins said.